The Ultimate “Hollow Crown” Appreciation Post

I’ve always struggled with Shakespeare. The dialogue, the convoluted stories, the sometimes-creepy interpretations…it’s just never been my thing. Granted, my exposure to him has been pretty limited. I’ve seen two productions of Hamlet (which could depress a hyena), various retellings of Romeo and Juliet (someone needs to tell Taylor Swift it didn’t end the way she tells it), and the plays I read in high school: Macbeth, Measure for Measure, Hamlet, and Henry V.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed Henry V. Hal, in my mind, was just plain cool. He was dashing, driven, heroic, and soooooo romantic. I infinitely preferred him over a certain bipolar Danish prince. So when I recently had the opportunity to buy The Hollow Crown, a 4-episode TV series consisting of the plays Richard II, Henry IV, and my favorite Henry V, I jumped at it. And for the first time, I can say I am in love with a Shakespeare production.

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I admit, I probably would not have been so curious if Tom Hiddleston didn’t play my favorite character. Tom Hiddleston…how shall I put this in a dignified and intelligent fashion?…has earned my greatest respect and admiration as one of the finest, kindest, and most intelligent actors of our age. But I promise, he’s not the only reason I love this show. Richard II doesn’t have any Tom. He isn’t in every scene of Henry IV either–AND I read and enjoyed Henry V before I even knew Tom Hiddleston existed. So, here are my other reasons for giving this show two thumbs-up:

  • These are movies. Not “plays.” You have exciting battle scenes, magnificent castles, grimy little medieval villages, English naval ships, background music, etc. This is Shakespeare on an epic, gritty, adventurous scale, and it feels REAL.
  • The talent in this show is marvelous. The dialogue simply rolls off the actors’ tongues. They speak DISTINCTLY and with spirit and passion. I still had to pay attention (no checking my mail or Twitter while listening to Harry Hotspur rage against the king), but I understood what they were saying.
  • While there are a few depressing scenes, it’s NOT Hamlet. (Can you tell I’m 100% done with Hamlet?) Shakespeare gives you several very likable characters in the “Henriad”–and while it ends on a bittersweet note, you still come away wanting to scream “Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and St. George!” at the top of your lungs. (I did, anyway.)

Richard II is the first of the episodes. This play tells the story of a frivolous young king, led astray by his “flatterers.” Richard (Ben Whishaw) is concerned only with his own fun and pleasure, at the expense of his country and any sense of honor towards his friends and family. 6f140342ee31074dd54ab3c543414dec When he seizes the property of his dead uncle, John of Gaunt (Patrick Stewart), he tramples on the rights and inheritance of his banished cousin, Henry Bolingbroke (Rory Kinnear, AKA Lord Septimus in Return to Cranford). When Bolingbroke finds out he’s been robbed of his inheritance, he returns to England in a fury, defying the King’s banishment, and leads a fomenting rebellion against Richard.

Ultimately, Richard is overthrown and ends up murdered in the Tower of London, and Bolingbroke is crowned Henry IV. (Spoilers, I know–but for heaven’s sake, the play is some 500 years old. And you can get those spoilers from a history book.)

I did not like Richard. He was a prissy drama queen. If he really cared about his country he would’ve never ended up in such a nasty predicament–but nooooooo, he flounced off with his “favorites” and stole his cousin’s rightful inheritance and pampered his pet monkey. And then had an outright crying fit when the nobles demanded he give up his crown to his far nobler cousin. Ugh.

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Bolingbroke, however, I really liked. He seemed like an honorable man who found himself caught up in a war that he never wanted, against a king who, in better times, had been his close friend. Nor did he punish a man who prophesied that bitter ruin would eventually come upon him for waging war against Richard. It was almost as if Bolingbroke knew he treaded dangerous waters by rebelling against an anointed king, and he refused to make light of it.

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Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2 continue Bolingbroke’s story as King Henry IV, but also begins the story of his young son, Hal. Henry IV is now played by the magnificent Jeremy Irons, while Tom Hiddleston plays Prince Hal.

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“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” old King Henry says–and just as the prophet foretold in Richard II, his reign is indeed uneasy. This time it’s Harry Hotspur, his nephew, who leads a rebellion against him. King Henry prepares for war while bemoaning the foolhardiness of his son, who is determined to spend his days as Prince of Wales romping through the kingdom, having as much fun as possible before he becomes king.

Part of the charm of Henry IV (especially in Part 1) comes from the lovable Prince Hal and his merry men, led by the sometimes-irritating but often-hilarious Sir John Falstaff. I couldn’t help it: I cracked up more than once over their antics.

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But King Henry has no time for Hal’s shenanigans. In one of the most powerful scenes in the whole series, he confronts Hal over his irresponsible ways. After that harsh but necessary scolding, Hal begins to change. He works hard to earn his father’s respect, slowly accepting his intimidating role as the future king and fighting for causes greater than himself.

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Thankfully, gruff old King Henry does love his son and finally comes to respect and trust him…even if he doesn’t give Hal full evidence of that trust until it’s almost too late.

Henry V brings Hal’s magnificent story to its triumphant conclusion. I had high expectations for this one and I wasn’t disappointed. It now claims a spot of honor on my Favorite Movies List.

Hal has completely thrown off his foolish past–which, in some ways, is rather sad because he’s no longer in contact with Falstaff or his merry men–but at the same time, such a step was necessary. Bad company corrupts good morals–and without the undoubtedly negative influence of Falstaff (no matter how funny he could be), Hal becomes a very responsible, devout, and much-loved king.

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But trouble is brewing on the horizon: Hal believes he has a legitimate claim to the French throne, thanks to his descent from his great-grandmother, Isabella of France. (By the way, that’s the Princess in Braveheart, in case anyone wanted a point of reference.) Naturally, the French aren’t too happy with that, and they respond to his claims with taunts.

Worst. Strategy. Ever. One does not simply try to intimidate Hal. Infuriated, he crosses the English Channel and conquers France all the way to the famous Battle of Agincourt, where his weary and outnumbered men score an overwhelming victory over the much larger French army.

This is where Hal delivers the famous “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers” speech. Laurence Olivier’s interpretation had the young king passionately shouting the lines from a wooden cart,  with a crowd of soldiers gathered around him. I’ve seen clips of it and it’ll send shivers up your spine. Tom Hiddleston’s version is very different, still deeply emotional but in a quiet, heartfelt way.

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After Agincourt, Hal makes his next move towards claiming the throne of France: marry the young French princess Katherine. But rather than simply marry her for politics’ sake, Hal genuinely loves this girl. Unfortunately for us who would’ve liked more character development for Kate (*grumble grumble*), Shakespeare doesn’t show her first meeting with Hal or how he fell head-over-heels in love with her at first sight (which is 100% historically accurate). But we do get this proposal scene where you figure out pretty darn fast that Hal is smitten, and she is too.

And it’s adorably awkward…

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But then the movie ends on a heartbreaking note. A few months after Hal brought Kate to England and had her crowned Queen in Westminster Abbey, he returned to France on another military campaign. There he contracted dysentery and died (I know, I know, “That’s what people DO!!”) and Kate was left all alone with her new baby, little King Henry VI. Of course I was curious about what happened to her, so I looked her up…and ended up stunned and amazed. Kate eventually married an English knight by the name of Owen Tudor…and their descendant, Henry Tudor, ended up becoming King Henry VII of England, the father of Henry VIII and the founder of the Tudor dynasty.

WOW WOW WOW. History nerds, can I get a “WOW”?!

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This still applies, though, regardless of Tudor awesomeness.

I’m on a second watch right now with my sisters. I bargained: “Watch The Hollow Crown with me and I’ll watch Batman vs. Robin with you.”  I also watched Coriolanus this past weekend, the live production version with (you guessed!) Tom Hiddleston in the title role. It was fantastic, but very intense. Lots of fighting (both physical, verbal, and political), and just when you thought his character was going to reconcile with his friends and family, Tom went and “died” onscreen. And I don’t like to watch my favorite actors “die” onscreen (*coughcoughRedDawncoughcough*).

Thankfully I didn’t have to go through that with Henry V. Hal died offscreen and it was much gentler on the emotions.

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But in conclusion: yes, I have a new fandom. Maybe I’ll even be able to stomach Hamlet again now that I have this newfound appreciation for Shakespeare 😉

19 thoughts on “The Ultimate “Hollow Crown” Appreciation Post

  1. haha. I quite enjoy Hamlet, although the first time I read it I was completely lost. However, THREE different classes during three different years of high school required me to read it, so basically I think it was shoved down my throat until I learned to like it 🙂

    I find it quite the coincidence that we happen to be watching these movies at the same time, although the only one we’ve finished so far is Richard the II. (yeah, I referred to him as the “drama queen,” although I still ended up feeling sorry for him there at the end.)

    Did you know they’re making season 2 of the Hollow Crown? It’s starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III, and I believe it also is going to have Judi Dench, Michael Gambon and Andrew Scott in it as well. Definitely excited!

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    1. Haha!! “Shoved down my throat” is probably a good way to describe how I feel about “Hamlet.” It’s an important piece of literature, no doubt, and I do think everyone ought to be familiar with it–but I’ve read it/watched it too many times, and it’s so dark and depressing! There really aren’t any characters I like or love. I will say, though, that Mel Gibson’s version is the best of the two Hamlet movies I’ve seen (we didn’t like David Tennant’s version at all). The acting is out-of-this-world good.

      I did feel a bit sorry for Richard at the end. Poor guy…all alone and looking so ill in the Tower 😦 That was sad. I felt bad for his queen, too. I can’t wait to hear what you think of the other two movies, though! FYI there are a couple little things in Henry IV that aren’t for preschool toys…nothing totally horrid, but you should be aware. You can look it up on the IMDB Parent’s Guide.

      I DID know about Season 2–and Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III! I’m so excited!!! (Except I’ll probably have to see another Favorite Actor undergo another violent onscreen “death”…noooooooooooooo.) I didn’t know about Judi Dench though–or Andrew Scott?! WHAT. Must go and find out who he’ll play! (It’ll probably be Henry VII or something and then the Sherlock/Moriarty jokes will be FLYING.)

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  2. I’m just beginning to get my feet wet with Shakespeare, and this historical era has never been one of my special interests, but your description of this series makes it sounds fascinating! What is it like content-wise, by the way?

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    1. Content-wise, it was surprisingly good! Richard II and Henry V are totally clean. Henry IV does have a few very small scenes you need to watch out for: Hotspur and his wife have a couple of passionate kisses, there are a couple of things with Falstaff and his girlfriend, and there’s one part where Hal and this girl do some “necking” in order to distract somebody (like Steve and Nat in The Winter Soldier, but worse–I skipped it). But those scenes combined make up less than 5 minutes of the whole series, so that’s pretty good!

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  3. I just came across this searching for The Hollow Crown, and it’s definitely piqued my interest further. It sounds brilliant. 😉
    Could I second the question about content, please? Heh.

    (Also, I follow you on Pinterest, haha. Hi. :D)

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    1. Hi, Sophie! Awesome to meet another Pinner 😉

      I’ll just repeat my answer to Elisabeth Grace: “Content-wise, it was surprisingly good! Richard II and Henry V are totally clean. Henry IV does have a few very small scenes you need to watch out for: Hotspur and his wife have a couple of passionate kisses, there are a couple of things with Falstaff and his girlfriend, and there’s one part where Hal and this girl do some “necking” in order to distract somebody (like Steve and Nat in The Winter Soldier, but worse–I skipped it). But those scenes combined make up less than 5 minutes of the whole series, so that’s pretty good!”

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  4. Aaaaaand my computer just showed me your replies, which I’m sure were not there a second ago. Argh. I do apologise, heehee.

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  5. I think I just spit water everywhere and died at “Thats what people DO!” LOL 😀

    Seriously though, this makes me really want to watch the series now. It sounds really good!

    Of course how could anything with Tom Hiddleston not be good? 😀

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    1. Ah yes, well, “That’s what people DO!!” is one of the most quotable Sherlock lines 😉

      I hope you do get to see it soon! Tom Hiddleston really is exceptional in this. He says all his lines as naturally as if he’s reading a grocery list or something. How he does it, I do not know. But he does make me want to learn how to talk Shakespearan–or at least use some of the lines in my extensive “movie quote vocabulary.” 😉

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  6. Glad I’m not the only one who considers Shakespeare a fandom. 😀 I actually really liked Hamlet when I read it for school, but I’ve never seen it acted out. I wonder if seeing actors perform the roles adds to the depressingness of it. 😕

    I haven’t seen The Hollow Crown yet, but I will definitely try to find it! I agree: the proposal scene is entirely adorable. 🙂

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    1. I’ve seen Mel Gibson’s Hamlet and part of David Tennant’s; both were very dark and depressing (and Tennant’s was on the weird side, to be honest). I think Kenneth Branagh has a version too, so who knows…maybe his version is lighter? (*shrugs*)

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  7. AGHAGHAGHAGHAGH SEASON 2 I DID NOT KNOW ABOUT SEASON 2!!!

    *takes deep breaths* *calms down to coherent levels*

    A’ight. I’m so glad you enjoyed the series so much! Richard II was piteous, the kind of guy who should never inherit the throne. But the “100% done with you” looks on everybody’s faces were gold.

    Henry IV’s speech to his son is even better when you remember he had to deal with Richard, and he’s legit scared Hal will be that kind of idiot king.

    Go check out “Much Ado About Nothing”, with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson. Most of the actors are clearly “Shakespearing”, but Branagh and Thompson have the central roles and they fill them *superbly*. (Whedon directed a version with much better acting all around, but a very different take on the central romance that I didn’t care for as much.) There are two scenes: a random bath scene right at the beginning which you can skip without missing a THING, and a plot-relevant scene where we all just look away.
    “Twelfth Night” with…oh gosh, who’s in this? Imelda Staunton, Helena Bonham Carter, Imogen…whats-her-name. That one’s good.

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    1. ASDFJKLASDFJKLASDFJKLASDFJKL I KNOW RIGHT BECAUSE BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH ASDFJKLADSFJKL!!!!

      (*stops short at the abrupt realization that my computer is flagging “Cumberbatch” as a misspelled word. Computer, you know NOTHING, you should be ashamed of yourself.*)

      Ahem. Anyway. You, me, and Season 2 of The Hollow Crown are going to have a wonderful relationship, I can tell. It comes out next year. 2016 is a big year for my fandoms, yes indeedy.

      Richard probably would’ve been a relatively decent chap if he just had a little farm out in the countryside where he could raise chickens and cows and his pet monkey. And I TOTALLY agree about King Henry’s scolding of Hal! Thankfully (thankfully!!) Hal took it to heart, ‘cuz I would be one sad puppy if I couldn’t love him in good conscience. Ehehehe 😉

      IMELDA STAUNTON? Doing Shakespeare? That must be hilarious. She’s one of my favorite characters in Cranford!

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  8. The bit about Henry V’s widow being an ancestor to Henry VII…. EEEP!
    I can’t get my hands on this series fast enough.

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  9. So glad you’re finally enjoying Shakespeare! 😀
    The Hollow Crown series has been on my list of things to watch sometime soon. Sounds like you’ve read/watched mostly histories and tragedies — you should check out a couple comedies. 🙂 Much Ado About Nothing is hilariously witty (and the adaption with Emma Thompson is great) and Twelfth Night is probably my favorite of all the plays I’ve read. It’s one of his cleanest plays and there’s an adaption with Helena Bonham Carter that is *fantastic*.

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    1. Yes, FINALLY, haha! I think you would really enjoy The Hollow Crown. You’re the second person who’s recommended both of those movies, so I will definitely have to check them out. Twelfth Night especially intrigues me…I’ve always heard it’s loosely based on the story of young Elizabeth I and her parents Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn–and Anne’s character apparently gets a lot of sympathy. Which in my opinion is well-deserved 😉

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